Today in Workplace Safety: Imperial Sugar and Kleen Energy

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

February 7 was a bad day for worker safety.

On February 7, 2008, 14 workers were killed and 38 were injured — many with severe burns — when the Imperial Sugar plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia exploded as a result of combustible dust accumulations.

Exactly two years later, on February 7, 2010, 6 workers were killed and at least 50 injured when the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, CT exploded after natural gas was used to blow debris from the plant’s pipes.

I remember both of those tragedies well. I was working in the House of Representatives when news of Imperial Sugar came across my desk, and snowed in on Superbowl Sunday during “Snowmageddon” when the Kleen Energy plant exploded.

Both of these tragedies were easily preventable. The hazards of combustible dust were well known, and massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust existed throughout the packaging building prior to the explosion.  Similarly, the hazards of using huge amounts of natural gas to blow debris from a power plant under construction were well known. Also well know was that all potential sources of ignition had to be eliminated before the blow — yet potential ignition sources from welding, electrical equipment and other practices had not been eliminated in an attempt to finish construction of the plant on schedule.

The Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) report on the Imperial Sugar investigation can be found here, and the CSB’s full combustible dust report can be found here. The CSB’s report on Kleen Energy can be found here.

The Imperial Sugar explosion along with CSB reports eventually led to a combustible dust emphasis program at OSHA, legislation that passed the House of Representatives that would have required OSHA to issue a combustible dust standard, and eventually, regulatory activity at OSHA.  It is one of my biggest regrets that we were not able to finish that rulemaking during the Obama administration, and the Trump administration has since removed combustible dust from the regulatory agenda.

Although OSHA never took action on natural gas blows, the industry discontinued the practice following the Kleen Energy explosion.

***

Reposted from Confined Space

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

More ...

Make Father's Day Union Made!

Make Father's Day Union Made!